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Understanding Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law


In light of a recent incident, Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law has once again been thrust into the spotlight. According to the Tampa Bay Times, authorities have released the surveillance video of a Lakeland city commissioner who fatally shot an alleged shoplifter. The shoplifter was reportedly shot as he tried to leave the store after taking a hatchet from the store. He was reportedly unarmed other than the hatchet. Authorities are still conducting an investigation and no charges have been filed at this point. If charged with a crime, the commissioner will likely assert a Stand Your Ground defense under Florida’s self-defense law.

What is a Stand Your Ground Law?

A Stand Your Ground law is a type of self-defense statute that establishes a right by which people can respond to threats or force without fear of criminal prosecution.

What is the Common Law Duty to Retreat?

In some states, even some of those that have enacted Stand Your Ground laws, an individual can only successfully utilize a self-defense statute if he or she has first retreated before elevating the level of force. The idea behind this is that the use of force was the last option available.

What is the Traditional Castle Doctrine?

The Castle Doctrine has historically been Florida’s major exception to the Duty to Retreat. Under the Castle Doctrine, a individual had no duty to retreat prior to the use of force when assaulted in his or her own home and where the individual was not the aggressor. While eliminating the requirement of the Duty to Retreat, the Castle Doctrine still required the individual using it to have reasonably believed that force was necessary to prevent serious bodily harm or death.

Why is Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law So Controversial?

In 2005, the Florida legislature enacted what has commonly become known as Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. Even for a Stand Your Ground law, the Florida version has been under scrutiny since it was enacted. This is because it differs from traditional self-defense laws in three major ways:

  1. The general “Duty to Retreat” has been totally abolished.
  2. Legal justification for the use of deadly force in scenarios involving vehicles, dwellings, residences no longer has to be explained – it is now presumed.
  3. Unlike in some other states with Stand Your Ground laws, the Florida version affords complete immunity to defendants whose actions fall within the statute.

What Happened to the Law in 2017?

Under a change to the law last year, the burden is now on the state to prove that the defendant did not act in self-defense, instead of the burden being on the defendant to prove that he or she did. In addition to shifting the burden of proof to the prosecution, this change also raised the burden of proof from a mere preponderance of the evidence to a clear and convincing evidence standard which is harder to meet.

Can a Stand Your Ground Defense Be Used in All Circumstances?

No. The Florida statute outlines several scenarios in which the defense cannot be used, including when the individual is present unlawfully or present for criminal activity and when the individual is attempting a felony.

Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney for Help Today

If you have been charged with a crime or face the imminent threat of being charged with one and need to understand how Florida’s Stand Your Ground law applies to the facts of your individual case, it is imperative that you reach out to an experienced attorney as soon as possible. Donald C. Barrett, P.A. is the Tampa criminal defense attorney you want on your side. Schedule a free consultation today.


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